The conductor Victor Borge once said that the shortest distance between two people is a smile. I’d suggest to marketers that the shortest distance between a transaction and a happy experience is in data.
And boy, there is no shortage of it. In fact, most organizations have more than enough ways to gather the insights that help define and engage the suddenly confident consumer.
But it is what we do with that data once it is collected that matters most. And, unfortunately, many companies still don't fully understand how to use those consumer insights profitably and responsibly to make the customer happy, oftentimes with damaging results to performance, reputation, or both.
In an increasingly competitive environment, where technology is a field equalizer and the consumer has more power than ever, the organization has a clear mandate--a return to profitable growth and solid shareholder return. But none of this can be achieved without gaining a deep understanding of the customer. So how do you use the insights from customer data to influence desired change throughout the organization?
I suggest these five critical steps to highlight the important role that data-driven insights play. Deployed properly across the organizations, these steps should help every decision maker--from the front-line to the C-level executive--influence positive change across every consumer touch point.
- Invite all division heads to develop joint ownership of the vision: If a company wants to build customer engagement, then its leaders first have to make sure everyone at the table is in agreement on how to leverage customer data in ways that will create real financial and operational gains. Spending time as an executive group will enable the team to create meaningful opportunities that not only ensure buy-in, but also allow the group to consensually define the metrics of success. It takes work--there are costs to budget, goals to set, and reliable performance measures to be established. Every division head plays a key role, so together they must define the level of engagement to strive for, chart the course and specify the deliverables to which each is accountable. Then, it is up to the C-suite to communicate the vision consistently to ensure each of their stakeholders is supportive of the key tasks required to make the vision come to life.
- Become customer-committed: Many companies are product-obsessed; they operate with complete focus on creating, developing, and enhancing their products to meet an existing need. Others are opportunists--they obsess on product, but also use their data occasionally to solve issues involving service, sales dips or shrinking baskets. Both of these types of companies operate every day. But in times of dramatically shifting technologies or fickle consumer demands, it is the customer-committed company that stands apart. These organizations place the customer at the center of their business equation, commit to two-way dialogues, and use a deft balance of data and innovation to design a relevant customer experience. So how do you put the data to work in this way?
- Share customer data with all divisions of organization: Incorporating customer data into your core operations does not mean tearing up the playbook--it just requires writing a new introduction. It involves releasing the customer data from the marketing department, where organizations tend to hoard it, and sharing it across all departments, from finance to store planning and even with the legal department. Then, everyone can align their priorities against high-value, high-potential customers, identify the critical customer encounters that define your brand’s unique value, and change their activities with the express purpose of better serving those customers. The goal is not merely to improve the customer experience, but to transform it so that you get an emotional connection. A starting point is to map out all of the organization’s customer touch points and then prioritize them.
- Link performance incentives to customer metrics: Be sure to demonstrate a direct connection between each department and the bottom line. To stay motivated and continually prove the business case, make sure your dashboard is tied back to the overall goal of achieving higher customer engagement. For example, measurable satisfaction ratings for the top 20 percent of your critical customer touch points should connect to compensation and rewards across all departments, including logistics, merchandising, and PR.
- Don’t forget the quick wins: Identify three to five ways the company can make fast progress. A series of “quick wins” will help build commitment and excitement during the change-management process and rally support for embracing the pursuit of customer happiness and intimacy. You’ll find the old 80/20 rule in effect here, in that 20 percent of the activities will generate 80 percent of the gain as well as 80 percent of you future prospects. Identify the priority areas, narrow them down to the easy and impactful items, and you will see quick gains.
I’ve seen these strategies work time and again, because no matter which lens you use to view the organization, the desired result is the same--to grow the bottom line via high-value, high-potential customer relationships. And only happy customers are loyal customers.
By sharing the data insights to gain a deeper understanding, these five tips will initiate a true customer-committed approach for your business, and that will make everyone smile, from the aisle to the boardroom.
Bryan Pearson is president and CEO of LoyaltyOne  and author of The Loyalty Leap: Turning Customer Information Into Customer Intimacy . For more from Bryan, read his blog .
[Image: Flickr user Charles Knowles ]